Mention Champagne and immediately, images of elegant flutes of effervescent pale gold nectar are conjured. For centuries, the Champagne wine region in the northeast of France has been synonymous with sparkling white wines, the production of which have been dominated by big name Champagne houses like Mumm and Moët et Chandon.
In recent decades though, there’s been a bubbling interest (sic) within the circle of discerning drinkers for Grower Champagnes. Many of the big name Champagne houses do not own vineyards and actually buy grapes from small vineyard growers, then use the juices to create their own bubbly blends. The rise of the Grower Champagne movement began when these vineyard owners felt that their grapes’ potential expressions were lost and unfulfilled when blended to fit certain house styles of the big name Champagne producers. While certain growers have always been making a small bit of Champagne out of their grapes, more of them jumped on the bandwagon to produce their own wines. The Champagnes from growers/producers like Anselme and Jacques Selosse, Ulysse Collins, David Leclapart, and Philipponnat have been highly regarded as artisanal wine, crafted with the stylistic direction of highlighting their wines’ distinct terroir characteristics.
At a recent tasting, head sommelier of ATLAS Bar Mason Ng pointed out that for Grower Champagnes to be legitimate, at least 95% of the grapes used in their Champagne has to be grown by themselves. The way to identify a Grower Champagne is to look for the initial RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) on its wine label.
Known for its amazing collection of Champagne (which we have previously covered here), ATLAS Bar has a key focus on Grower Champagnes and is naturally the best place for one to get a taste of these quality bubblies, especially when there are approximately 30 Champagnes by the glass and a rotating curation of Champagne flights.
Still (pardon the pun), it is not just the sparkling wines of Champagne that deserve your attention. Traditional to the Champagne wine region are several types of non-effervescent wines. Yet few outside of France have ever tried a sparkle-free wine from Champagne, since these still wines are usually only consumed locally. Thanks to a growing curiosity and a maturation of wine drinkers, oenophiles from all over the world are now seeking out these still wines from Champagne.
The AOC designation for all still wine made in Champagne, Coteaux Champenois, covers the same geographical area and grape varieties as the Champagne AOC designation, so you can find still wine producers throughout all five of Champagne’s sub-regions. However, because of the chilly climate of the region, most of the Coteaux Champenois come from the southernmost villages like Bouzy and Aÿ, as it is challenging for grapes to get ripe enough up north.
Most of the Coteaux Champenois are reds made from Pinot Noir grapes, with only a small portion of whites and reds made with Chardonnay. These still wines are typically light and acid-driven, with lively fruit. Winemakers who produce Coteaux Champenois do so to keep up traditions that have been swept aside by the advent and celebration of sparkling Champagne. Many of the renowned Grower Champagne producers make outstanding Coteaux Champenois, including René Geoffrey, Egly-Ouriet, and Pierre Paillard. Recently, even the bigger Champagne houses are getting in on the act with the likes of Louis Roederer, Bollinger, and Lauren-Perrier making Coteaux Champenois.
Ratafia de Champagne
Even though the Ratafia de Champagne AOC was only established in 2015, the tradition of making this sweet wine dates back to the 13th century. Also known as Ratafia Champenois, this fortified wine is made from the fourth and final pressings of Champagne grapes called “rebeche”, which because of its reduced clarity and quality, do not make it to the production of sparkling wines. Ratafia de Champagne is made by adding a neutral grape-based alcohol to this grape must. The addition of alcohol halts the fermentation of the sugar in the grape must, resulting in Ratafia having a sweet taste and an alcohol level of 18%.
Unsurprisingly, ATLAS Bar has also been curating their very unique Coteaux Champenois and Ratafia de Champagne Collection. The collection currently includes around 15 different Coteaux Champenois, from the very premium Egly Ouriet Ambonnay Grand Cru Rouge and Henri Giraud Aÿ Grand Cru Blanc, to the smaller houses of Dehours, Larmandier Bernier and to the unknown cuvee of Lanson’s Bouzy Grand Cru Rouge and five Ratafia de Champagne, which includes Egly Ouriet, Henri Giraud, Guy Charlemagne, Lanson. Lead by Ng, the team is working on sourcing the best producers for both ranges and hopes to have more than 20 Coteaux Champenois and 10 Ratafia de Champagne by mid 2018.
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